Series No. 7
Approach in Environmental Management
- An Ecosystem's Perspective >
B. Ecological Engineering
Historically, environmental problems
have arisen primarily because of inappropriate decisions and a lack of
understanding of the impact of these decisions upon
the environment. New approaches must be developed and novel technological
developments and engineering must function together in an integrated manner
in order for social, economic and environmental benefits to be realized.
Ecological engineering is an example of such an integrated approach.
engineering practices can help conserve and restore the environment through
the integration of engineering and ecological principles. An ecologically
sound approach to engineering takes into account that nature responds systematically,
continuously and cumulatively. Ecological engineering operates within the
natural system rather than infringing on or overcoming it. Solutions are
developed to be as flexible and forgiving as possible, thus avoiding drastic
and irreversible consequences when something goes wrong. To support such
an approach, it is important to acquire knowledge and understanding about
the dynamics of ecosystems and their particular vulnerabilities.
Ecological engineering and related ecotechnologies are dependent on the self-designing
capabilities of ecosystems and nature. When changes occur, natural systems
shift and food chains reorganize. As individual species are selected and others
are not, a new dynamic order ultimately emerges that is usually better suited
to the environment superimposed on it. This focus on, and use of, biological
species, communities, and ecosystems distinguishes ecological engineering and
related ecotechnologies from the more conventional engineering technology approaches
which seldom consider integrative ecosystem-based approaches.
Ecological engineering involves identifying those biological systems that
are most adaptable to human needs and those human needs that are most adaptable
to existing ecosystems, while recognising that it is counterproductive to eliminate
or even disturb natural ecosystems unless absolutely necessary. Ecological
engineering and ecotechnology applications also emphasize understanding of
the entire ecosystem rather than components of the system in isolation from
one another. Decision support tools such as modelling and cost -benefit analysis
are important, as ecosystem solutions cannot be determined by simply adding
up the parts to make a whole. Table 2 provides some examples of ecological
engineering and ecotechnology applications.
Table 2. Some
Examples of Ecological Engineering and Ecotechnology Applications
|Ecosystems are used to reduce or solve a pollution problem that would
otherwise be harmful to other ecosystems.
||Wastewater recycling in wetlands; sludge recycling
|Ecosystems are imitated or copied to reduce or solve a resource problem.
Reconstructed wetlands; integrated fishponds
|The recovery of an ecosystem is nurtured after significant disturbance.
||Surface coal mine restoration; lake and river restoration; restoration
of hazardous waste sites
|Existing ecosystems are modified in an ecologically sound way to solve
an environmental problem.
||Biomanipulation of species; biological control of eutrophication processes
|Ecosystems are used for the benefit of humans without destroying the
|| Sustainable agro-ecosystems; sound renewable resource harvesting